Yodel drivers in Northern Ireland are no longer allowed to take their vans home after their shifts, in a move condemned by the GMB union, which said it increased the risk of cross contamination.

The parcel carrier said the decision was made after “extensive consultation” with staff and the union and it brought the vehicle policy in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of its UK network.

As of 3 June, van drivers at Yodel’s Omagh and Carrickfergus depots must return their vehicles at the end of their shifts.

But the GMB said it was “putting staff at deadly risk”.

It said the decision forced drivers onto public transport in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and was “a shocking decision, at the worst possible time”.

Peter Macklin, GMB organiser, said: “Many of our members live considerable distances from their respective depots – they will now either be unable to work – or force them onto overcrowded public transport systems.

“Meanwhile they face an increased risk of cross contamination of Covid-19, as drivers can’t be guaranteed that they will have access to the same vehicle at all times, or that the vehicles have been adequately sanitised.

“The fear of the impact on our members’ health and working lives is causing considerable stress and anxiety.”

A Yodel spokeswoman said: “Following extensive consultation with colleagues and union representatives which began in January 2019, we will be bringing the vehicle policy at our Omagh and Carrickfergus depots in line with the rest of the UK network.

“This will be introduced from 3 June, having been delayed to account for the circumstances as the country entered lockdown.

“We are continuing to work with colleagues during this period to mitigate any impact, including offering changes to shift patterns and start times where appropriate.”